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La dolce vita at Asbury Park’s Porta

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Doors are to be opened – and the best ones offer a subconscious welcome. The word in Italian is “porta,” which is the name of one of Asbury Park’s most reliable and innovative restaurants.

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There are doors all over Porta, leaning outside the iconic blue warehouse and hanging from its walls. The building has good karma. Earlier incarnations include a gay club, as well as the venue where Bruce Springsteen first played onstage with his saxophonist sidekick Clarence Clemons. Located right down the street from The Stone Pony, another fabled stop on the Springsteen pilgrimage, and right off the town beach, Porta is perfectly situated for sunset cocktails and late night summer dinners – and just about any other reason you might be desirous of eating and drinking well.

The ideal location might explain some of the restaurant’s popularity – but the reason why locals return repeatedly to Porta has more to do with the culinary integrity of the kitchen and the easygoing professionalism of its staff.

Blessed by restaurateur and Neapolitan pizza maker Roberto Caporuscio, Porta’s pizzas utilize local vendors for fresh ingredients and benefit from two wood-fired ovens from Naples. The restaurant’s list of New York and Philly purveyors reads like a Who’s Who of the best artisanal producers of pasta, gelato, cured meats, and espresso beans. Mozzarella and ricotta are made in-house daily (and served fresh and warm by the house’s chefs on Wednesday evenings).

The focus on Neapolitan cuisine includes maritime favorites such as a pan-roasted day boat octopus on a bed of chervil, fennel, and fingerling potatoes with a parsley, lemon, and olive oil sauce so delicious that it demands “la scarpetta.” No need to wash that plate: It’s been clean-licked.

Simplicity and freshness are Porta’s guiding principles and strengths, as is Chef Chris Calabrese who thrives – and insists – on excellent product and reconnecting with the earth, the consequence of which is food that tastes better than even your memories of the best summer.

Once a month, Porta hosts a five-course Dinner Party on Thursday evenings, which offers wine and cocktail pairings alongside entrées not otherwise available on Porta’s menu. Themes include “Italy Before the Tomatoes” and "Hail to the Truffle" and might include a roast pig or a vegetarian feast.

Garage doors open onto the eponymous Porta National Park, an outdoor seating and gaming area in clement weather – and a Christmas tree market that sells Oregon evergreens during the Yuletide season. During summer, The Park is an extension of the beach, while in the evenings when the restaurant more closely resembles a South Beach nightclub, most “urban” attire is discouraged – none of which deterred actor Matt Dillon who found time to frequent Porta during his time in Asbury Park.

Open since 2011, Porta is a part of Smith, the hospitality group that owns and operates several of the city’s more popular eateries. Porta also sells a line of goods that emphasizes its tagline, “Eat. Drink. Be Honest.” Which, when you think about it, is probably the best way of achieving “la dolce vita.”

Look for the red, white, and blue building painted with the Latin words, “Porta patens esto. Nulli claudatur honesto,” which basically means that the door’s always open if you’re honest.

No wonder it’s all good at Porta.